Aussie Luke McKenzie is chomping at the bit as he and 2000 fellow triathletes count down the hours to this weekend’s 2014 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii – the Hawaiian Ironman World Championship – or just Kona in triathlete parlance.
The 33-year-old produced the race of his life in Kona last year to finish second in the world’s most famous Ironman Triathlon.
“All good here in Kona,” said Luke on the eve of the great race that sees 296 fellow Australians lining up for the 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles of cycling and 26.2 miles marathon run in the imperial distances.
“I’m just waiting for this race to roll around on Saturday so we can get on with things!
“I’ve had a great lead up to Hawaii after being based in Oregon for eight weeks.
“Last year I raced the Hy-Vee 510 Championships in Des Moines and the Ironman 70.3 World Champs in Las Vegas prior to Kona and didn't have great results.
“I decided to give those races a miss this year and focus (fully) on Kona and I feel training has been a lot more consistent leading in as a result.
“So I feel good about the preparation this year.”
And his expectations for Kona 2014?
“I actually don't expect to win. I know coming second last year you would assume I would expect to win this year but to tell you the truth I think a lot of things need to go my way in order for that to happen. I am in great form and I am ready to go to battle but I also know the nature of this race is unpredictable, not to mention countless other competitors that have the goods to win.”
Like so many Australian triathletes, The Hawaii Ironman is what got them started in the sport and Taree-born Gold Coast-raised McKenzie was no different.
“It’s what got me started that’s for sure and it would mean so much to me to have my name etched in history winning this great event,” said McKenzie.
“It would signify the pinnacle of my career. It would also mean a lot to my family that have been here to watch and support every one of my eight attempts.”
And to celebrate his 2014 campaign, Luke has released another version of the “Go Luke” Trucker hats to help raise funds for challenged athletes: http://lukemckenzie.com/
Mirinda enjoying triathlon attention
Meanwhile Australia’s two-time winner (2010) defending women’s champion Mirinda Carfrae is enjoying her time at the top of the triathlon tree and has told AAP’s Roger Vaughan she will be there when the whips are cracking.
Carfrae will be the only Australian woman in this year’s field in an event Australia has a long and proud history in, going back to our first winner, in 1994 with Ironman and recent ITU Hall of Famer and Sports Australia Hall of Famer Greg Welch topping the podium ahead of legendary six-time winner Dave Scott.
Three-time champion (2008-09-11) Craig Alexander has returned in 2014 after declaring 2013, where he finished 21st, as his final Kona tilt.
He will be joined by 2012 winner Pete Jacobs who became the sixth Australian to win the coveted crown – others being Welch, Alexander, Carfrae, Chris McCormack (2007, 2010) and Michellie Jones (2006), who will tonight be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame at the Palladium, Crown in Melbourne.
Jacobs, who admits his endurance is better than ever, says he has spent more hours on the bike than in previous years when we spoke to him from Kona this week.
“Training has been pretty solid since early August and I’m really happy to be back here on the big island and I’m starting to feel pretty fresh,” said Jacobs.
“I think my endurance is better than ever and I expect to be able to stay with the front group on the bike and be strong in the back half of the run. It will be a tough, fast race, and I am prepared for it.”
Jacobs, who defeated German Andreas Raelert and 2013 winner Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) in 2012 says Kona “is everything” to him.
“It is the toughest triathlon in the world and it is something I can be the best in the world at,” says Jacobs.
“Being the best in the world at something keeps me motivated to improve and discover more about myself.
“This race allows me to do that as my job, and I love the challenges it presents.”
Alexander has become synonymous with Kona since he finished second to McCormack in 2007, in an historic Australian 1-2 before going on to win the title three times and Kona immortality.
“My preparation has been very solid. Not as much racing as in past years, but I feel the preparation has been what I need. I have spaced it out more and trained myself into great shape,” said Alexander.
“The Hawaiian Ironman World Championship is a very special, iconic event in our sport and it is an event that I am proud to have won three times.”
Top 10 on the cards as Joe backs himself against world’s best
Tassie boy and prolific Ironman winner Joe Gambles has geared his season around Kona and has aims of a Top 10 finish and top five “if it’s a great day.”
“I have limited my racing considerably to make sure my preparation built over the entire season and the races I did choose were of a very high standard which enabled me to test myself against who I would face in Kona and push my fitness to a new level,” said Gambles.
“With a solid race I believe I could go top ten. If I have a great day top five is definitely a possibility.
“Kona is the pinnacle of our sport and so to perform well here means everything to me. This year I am lucky enough to have a lot of family and close friends to support me which I think will make a huge difference come race day.”
And then there are those who are following the greats and lining up for their first attempt at the race they have set their sights on for so long, like former AFL junior star, Albury-born Tim Van Berkel.
“This race means a lot to me; I worked hard for my spot. I grew up watching this and always wanted to be there one day,” said Van Berkel.
“My training and preparation for this race has been flawless; I have trained hard and I’m feeling good, ready to race!
“The only expectations I have for myself and this race is to get a feel and respect for it, race within my means and hopefully see where that takes me.”
Like Ballina-based Tim Reed, Kona will be an enormous learning curve.
“This experience is about learning the dynamics of this race to be very successful in future years,” said Reed.
“I would love to have a consistent race across all three disciplines and learn a lot along the way.
“Given the nature of such a competitive field often a lower risk strategy can equal a solid result as the guys truly hoping for a win have to take a lot more risk leading to a lot of on-course explosions.”